Sunday, June 01, 2014

White Elephant 2014: A Perfect Getaway (2009, David Twohy)

What's a nice little thriller like you doing in a place like this? I ask this because although participants in the White Elephant Blogathon are free to submit any movie they choose, there seems to be some disagreement on what sorts of movies are best to submit. Like any white elephant gift exchange, there will always be those who bring in junk just to watch other people squirm (I pity the fool who got stuck with my submission, Menno Meyjes' Max), while others are more charitable. Like the person who brings a secondhand trinket and leaves with a bottle of wine, I somehow drew David Twohy's legitimately good 2009 movie A Perfect Getaway.

While I was pretty happy with the movie, it left me in a somewhat precarious position as a writer. After all, this is a movie that depends a great deal on its plot twists and turns. Since some of you may not have seen it, I'll tread lightly.

Twohy centers his story on a pair of couples vacationing in Hawaii. The first, played by Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn, are honeymooning there. Zahn plays the part of an up-and-coming screenwriter (not "screenplay writer," he insists), and Jovovich plays his stay-at-home wife, who is still getting used to the new last name. Despite a recent news scare involving a newlywed couple killed on the big island, Zahn and Jovovich proceed with their original plan to hike to a legendary remote beach.

It's along the way that they meet the second couple, played by Kiele Sanchez (the little-loved Nikki from Lost) and Timothy Olyphant. They're the kind of couple one sometimes meets while traveling- almost oppressively friendly, somewhat clingy, full of tales and prone to showing off. Olyphant in particular is sort of alarming, with his war stories and arsenal of weapons he's packed away in his bags. When he kills a goat for dinner, Sanchez promptly sets about to field-dressing it. Given the outrageousness of their stories and familiarity with weapons, could they be the killers?

I enjoyed A Perfect Getaway quite a bit on a moment-to-moment basis, particularly in its first half when Twohy sets up the dynamic between the two couples. It helps that he gets solid performances from his principal cast, especially Olyphant, who projects both gregariousness and laser-focused intensity even in his quieter moments. But while the film's second half is also well-done, the construction is such that the film comes off less as a story to be enjoyed unto itself than a screenwriter's (not "screenplay writer's") exercise designed to snatch the run out from under the audience. Granted, Twohy plays fair according to his rules, so it's hard to begrudge him the manipulations. Yet I ended up feeling a little disappointed in the direction the film ended up taking, since it was going so well that it didn't really need the extra trickery.

Yet despite this disappointment, I still feel like I lucked out with A Perfect Getaway. It's not the kind of movie I would normally think of when coming up with titles to force others to watch, but it's also not a movie I would have watched without some motivation to do so. In that respect, it ws a nice surprise, even if it was somehow difficult to revise in a satisfactory manner (did I succeed? Best not to answer that). In light of my receiving A Perfect Getaway this year, I'm seriously considering submitting a good movie next year. Hell, I might even do something like Citizen Kane. Now THAT oughta make someone squirm...